What is Psychodynamic Therapy? Techniques and Examples

Category: Mental Health
9 minute read.

There are many types of treatments used in mental health and addiction treatment settings across the nation. The environment of the treatment facility, the diagnosis of the individual seeking help, and the range of therapy models provided, will play a role in determining which types of treatment you may participate in as a client. Some of the most common forms of therapy include behavioral therapies and psychodynamic therapies. Behavioral therapy is an umbrella term used to describe a group of therapies used to address mental health and addiction-related disorders.

Behavioral therapy encourages participants to examine and identify harmful or unhealthy thoughts and behaviors that lead to addiction or to worsening mental health symptoms. Once patients understand the roots of their thoughts and behaviors, it is possible to change those behaviors in favor of healthier and safer ones. Most behavioral therapies are focused on present problems and how to address them. Behavioral therapies are used to address a wide range of conditions, including panic disorders, anxiety disorders, depression, disordered eating, phobias, substance use disorders, and many others. The type of behavioral therapy most people are familiar with and the type that is widely used across many addiction treatment and mental health treatment settings is cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT. The long-term goal of CBT is to learn about the root causes of symptoms and then apply the tools and techniques necessary to change them. While behavioral therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy are highly effective in the treatment setting, they are not the only beneficial type of treatment.

What is Psychodynamic Therapy?

Psychodynamic therapy is a form of therapy that focuses on holistic healing. Sometimes referred to as a “global therapy,” psychodynamic therapy addresses the physical, psychological, and spiritual needs of the client seeking to overcome mental health or addiction-related disorders. Unlike cognitive behavioral therapy and other behavioral therapies, psychodynamic therapy is not problem-based or problem-focused. Instead of seeking to eliminate or reduce the intensity and severity of symptoms, psychodynamic therapy looks to explore desires, urges, and needs that often lead people to drugs and alcohol use or two worsening mental health symptoms.

Psychodynamic therapy sessions also encourage clients to examine their emotions, thoughts, and beliefs to find patterns. These patterns are believed to be important in understanding what shapes the individual’s beliefs about their current self. The psychodynamic theory follows that early life experiences (those that occur in childhood and adolescence) are pivotal in one’s emotional and psychological development as they grow. Therefore, it is crucial to look at these pieces of one’s background to understand the challenges or struggles that make them who they are today and to know how to reexamine or “rearrange the puzzle pieces” to create a more positive and healthy version of oneself today.

How Do Psychodynamic Therapy Sessions Work?

Psychodynamic therapy sessions can be intense and quite overwhelming. As opposed to other forms of therapy that are set up in a question-and-answer format, psychodynamic therapy sessions are open-ended. The therapist encourages their clients to practice free association. Free association is a technique specific to psychoanalysis and other forms of psychodynamic therapy. It enables clients to verbalize without censoring what they say. In other words, whatever thoughts come to mind, they are encouraged to verbalize no matter how embarrassing, irrelevant, or seemingly illogical to the moment. Free association aims to uncover unconscious thoughts that may relate to repressed emotions, past trauma, or threatening impulses that lead to harmful and unhealthy behaviors.

Although Psychodynamic therapy of the past was slightly more intense than it is today, sessions today often involve the stereotypical psychologist couch. Clients and the therapist sit face to face, and open discussion is encouraged. As the client discusses what is on their mind (conscious or unconscious), the therapist takes note and considers these thoughts and feelings for a later conversation. Psychodynamic therapy is highly common in treatment settings that address depression and anxiety.

What are the Goals of Psychodynamic Therapy

There are two main goals to psychodynamic therapy sessions. The first of these is enhancing a client’s self-awareness and helping them understand how their thoughts, beliefs, and feelings related to past experiences, especially those that occurred during childhood and adolescence. The key assumption of psychodynamic therapy is that today’s problems lie in the past. In other words, mental health struggles and the struggles that lead to drug and alcohol abuse are trapped within the unconscious mind. The unconscious mind is the part of our minds that we are incapable of accessing voluntarily, even if we want to. The psychodynamic theory follows that for healing to occur, these thoughts must be brought to the forefront. It is necessary for patients participating in psychodynamic therapy to discover these thoughts through free association and therefore develop an understanding of what causes their beliefs and how to manage them better.

Types of Psychodynamic Therapy

Like behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy is not a singular type of therapy. There are several types of psychodynamic therapy; however, many are rooted in the same theme or theory.

Brief psychodynamic therapies are as described, brief. Instead of hour-long sessions conducted over multiple days or weeks, brief psychodynamic therapy typically occurs in only a few sessions or, in some cases, one session. The brief cycle is often effective for those who are struggling with a specific problem that requires minimal intervention to understand. It is important to remember that most deeply rooted mental health or substance use conditions are not resolved in one session or even a couple. However, specific situations are effectively

addressed through brief therapy. Examples may include a traumatic family event such as a divorce, acute psychological illnesses, accidents, or cases of rape other domestic incidents.

Psychodynamic family therapy focuses on the needs of the family. Regardless of size, whether the family is two people or six, psychodynamic family therapy is frequently long-term. Different than family therapies rooted in cognitive-behavioral theory, psychodynamic family therapy investigates chronic problems within the family rather than specific events. Family-focused psychodynamic therapy also focuses on unconscious thoughts and unresolved conflict; however, the focus is on the context of family relationships rather than individual struggles.

Psychodynamic art or music therapy is a nontraditional form of psychodynamic therapy. Like other alternative therapies, it encourages the expression of emotions and feeling through the lens of art or music. Clients are still encouraged to control the direction of the session and freely explore their thoughts and feelings. Artwork that is created as part of the session is discussed with the goal of finding meaning behind the expressions in the artwork. This form of psychodynamic therapy may be most beneficial for individuals who are uncomfortable talking or verbalizing, especially in an environment where they are unfamiliar with the therapist. It can also be effective for clients struggling with severe anxiety or phobias that limit effective communication.

Tools of Psychodynamic Therapy

Skilled psychodynamic therapists will often call upon a range of tools to help improve the effectiveness of therapeutic sessions. One such tool is ink blots or Rorschach tests. Many people are familiar with these patches of ink on paper. Although they are tools closely connected to older therapeutic methods, they are still used in some forms of psychodynamic therapy today. Although these tests have gained significant stigma as part of any law enforcement or psychology-focused television shows, they are not a predictor of future mental health struggles nor a specific tool in addressing an individual’s personality profile.

Another tool is free association. As discussed above, free association is likely the most important and most widely used tool in psychodynamic therapy. Using free association as part of therapy sessions ensures that the therapist does not ask leading questions or “guide” the client to a particular epiphany or a-ha moment. Free association ensures that clients are moving from one subject to the next voluntarily as the thoughts enter their minds.

Other tools used as part of psychodynamic therapy, although quite rarely, include analyzing Freudian slips and dream analysis.

Depending on your treatment needs and goals, participating in psychodynamic therapy at The Los Angeles Outpatient Center may look different for you than for someone else. If you’d like to learn more about psychodynamic therapy, contact our admissions team today to learn about the programs we offer at our Los Angeles-based mental health treatment facility. Because we design our programs based on each patient’s unique needs, it is difficult to say precisely what

your treatment program might look like. However, you could expect to meet with your therapist a few times each week for sessions lasting between 45 minutes and an hour.

The goal of psychodynamic therapy is to help you better understand the thoughts and emotions that reside in areas of the brain ordinarily inaccessible as part of our day-to-day thought processes. A highly skilled therapist will help you uncover these thoughts and examine how they affect your current mental health through free association. As part of the comprehensive treatment program, paired with other support and guidance such as nutritional supports, medication support, and other medical and mental health treatment services, psychodynamic therapy may be ideal for helping you meet your treatment needs and goals.

If you would like to learn more about our programs at The Los Angeles Outpatient Center, including psychodynamic therapy, behavioral therapies, and other mental health treatment services, reach out to our admissions team today. We will work with you to ensure your treatment program includes all necessary elements to help you heal and achieve lasting wellness without the weight of mental health symptoms holding you back. We understand that holistic treatment is crucial to helping our clients maintain lasting recovery. Contact us for more information about how psychodynamic therapy at Los Angeles outpatient center can help you.